Want to download commercial software for free, legally? In this issue, Matt Neuburg explores the curious case of obsolete and unsupported software, some of which (like the popular outliners MORE and Acta) you can have once again! Also this week, Adam relates his learning experience of trying to buy replacement cell phone and camcorder batteries from clueless Web sites. In the news, we cover the releases of Anarchie 3.6, GoClick 3.0.1, and eMerge 1.6.1.
Stairways Releases Anarchie 3.6 — Stairways Shareware has released Anarchie 3.6, dropping "Pro" from the name and improving performance by up to 30 percent over version 3.5. (See "Anarchie (Pro) Continues to Rule" in TidBITS-448 for a review of Anarchie Pro 3.0 and "Anarchie Pro 3.5 Adds Mac OS 8.5 Features" in TidBITS-458.) Anarchie 3.6’s improved performance comes from a totally new transfer engine rewritten to the forthcoming Carbon API (see "Mac OS X or Mac OS Next?" in TidBITS-483). New features include the capability to test Sherlock plug-ins, support for downloading from password-protected Web sites, and the capability to resume more failed FTP and Web transfers. At minimum, Anarchie requires System 7 and MacTCP 1.1, with System 7.5.5 and Open Transport 1.2 or later recommended. Stairways recommends all Anarchie Pro 3.0 and 3.5 users upgrade; the upgrade is free and Anarchie 3.6 uses the same serial numbers as 3.0 and 3.5. For new purchasers, Anarchie 3.6 is $35 shareware and is a 1.4 MB download. [ACE]
GoClick Simplifies Making Web Pages — Terry Morse Software has released GoClick, a new product that takes Myrmidon’s "print any document to make it a Web page" capability (see various articles about Myrmidon in TidBITS) and extends it with support for Cascading Style Sheets, Adobe GoLive’s GRID format and floating boxes, and preservation of overlapping text and graphics. In addition, GoClick offers custom page sizes, custom format control down to the HTML tag level, and the capability to create Web pages that look like Adobe Acrobat documents but don’t require a plug-in or helper application. GoClick runs on any Mac with System 7.5 or later and is compatible with any application that has a Print command. A free 30-day demo is available as a 1.2 MB download. GoClick costs $159, with discounted prices available to educational users ($79), registered users of Myrmidon ($49), and Adobe GoLive users ($79). [ACE]
eMerge 1.6.1 Expands Direct Email Options — Galleon Software has released an update to eMerge, adding new filtering and error-checking features to its software for sending bulk personalized email messages (see "Legitimate Bulk Email eMerges" in TidBITS-465). eMerge 1.6.1 now offers improved control over importing and exporting address lists, more options for managing lists (such as checking for correct email address syntax), and improves several drag & drop operations. The update is free to registered users, and is available as an 1.2 MB download. New users can purchase a full version of eMerge 1.6.1 online for $100. [JLC]
Where does old software go when it dies? In one respect, nowhere, because it doesn’t die. Unlike a motorcycle, it has no parts to wear or rust. Unlike a book, the pages don’t yellow, fade, or tear. Unless the laws of physics change, software just keeps working – forever.
Unfortunately, with software, the laws of physics can change. First, there’s the physical computer on which it runs; you might buy a different computer. Second, there’s the operating system; you might install a different version. Either way, you’ve changed the laws of physics in your software’s universe.
In both cases, "different" will probably mean "newer." Software comes clearly marked with limitations to backward compatibility ("requires System 7.1 or better and at least a 68020 processor"), but there are pitfalls with forward compatibility as well. Newer machines and systems are supposed to solve this problem by maintaining their own backward compatibility, but as evolution progresses, universal backward compatibility is an impossibly tall order; some old software is bound to break.
The trouble is that all software makes assumptions about its environment, some of them virtually subconscious. Those assumptions may not remain true forever. You can now have a hard disk bigger than was once ever dreamed possible; on such a disk, old software may report that it can’t save files. The workaround: partition the disk. But sometimes there’s no workaround. Several years ago, a few people began to report that UserLand Frontier wouldn’t work on the new Power Mac 9600 they’d just bought. It turned out that Frontier, as it starts up, does some timing adjustments so that it knows how quickly to zoom windows. To make these adjustments, it measures the computer’s speed by counting while watching the clock. This counting was being done in a two-byte integer; but a Power Mac 9600 was so fast that this wasn’t enough bytes! The authors of Frontier hadn’t imagined a computer would ever be fast enough to make two bytes insufficient.
In the case of Frontier, the problem was solved immediately, because the program was actively supported. But if no developers are there to revise it, software can choke on the changes in its universe. It’s like a silent movie star who can’t make the transition to talkies.
Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself — At this point, let me complicate the matter by drawing some important distinctions.
I receive many messages from people who worry that their old software will die; after all, things in the real world do stop working, so people expect their software will too. My first advice is always to stop worrying. Has the software stopped working? No. Are you thinking of doing something to your computer that might make it stop working? No. So don’t worry.
Also, people see by the advance in version numbers that lots of software is actively supported (Word 4, Word 5.1, Word 6, Word 98), whereas their old software just sits there (SuperPaint 3.5, SuperPaint 3.5, SuperPaint 3.5), so it starts to feel dead even though it’s working fine. Such reasoning is backwards; the constant advance of software versions is often bad! I wrote about this years ago, in "The New Technologies Treadmill" in TidBITS-207. A new version of a program isn’t better because it has more features, but because it adds features that you need. That’s why many users are still happily using Word 5.1.
Another problem on which I often get letters is the acquisition of software. Software that works does users no good if they can’t obtain it at all, because the company no longer exists or refuses to sell you a copy. This is a serious problem, one with which I’m intimately acquainted, since programs I recommend in TidBITS have a bad habit of devolving into this kind of unavailability. WebArranger, MORE, IN Control, and Spreadsheet 2000 are examples.
Such situations have curious legal, moral, and practical ramifications. I detest software piracy, but if a company stops selling its software, then users are put in a very strange position. When I recommend IN Control, IN Control is no longer sold, and I’ve got a copy, it’s natural for me to wonder who would be hurt (and who could legitimately stop me) if I just quietly permitted my copy to multiply.
Whatever the legalities, the practical reality is that software is a very special kind of entity. A photocopy clearly isn’t the original book, and a tape clearly isn’t the original vinyl LP; even a duplicated CD lacks certain physical marks of the original, and even if it didn’t, it’s a duplicate. But software is made to be copied; that’s how you get it onto your computer in the first place! The result is not a copy; it’s the software! In this respect, software is more like a mathematical formula than a real-world entity. Also, software is a means to an end; the documents it creates are the important thing. What if I need a co-worker to be able to share my documents, created with a certain piece of defunct software? He’d buy a copy if he could, but he can’t; so why can’t I give him one?
Solutions Old and New — What can be done about old software? Here are some possibilities.
Get Real. If your software lacks some feature and is no longer supported, you need to face reality; the software has no authors, so this feature is not going to be added. Repeat after me: "SuperPaint will never make a GIF!" On the other hand, you’re not paying $100 a year to maintain your copy of SuperPaint; surely that’s not something to feel bad about.
Don’t Upgrade. If your software works, but you’re afraid it might die if you upgrade your computer, then don’t mess with that computer! If you want the latest bells and whistles, get them, but don’t throw the old computer away. At first blush, it seems crazy to keep that old Macintosh SE lying around merely to run a single piece of software. But at second blush, it seems like a great idea! The SE is worthless on the open market, and was probably just going to be recycled into pothole filler (no, really – see the page linked below!). Similarly, before upgrading your version of the Mac OS, ask yourself: am I likely to buy another computer soon anyway? If so, leave your 6100 running System 7.5; you’ll be enjoying Mac OS 8.6 when your iBook arrives. Or, your computer may let you switch versions of the operating system at will, between the latest version and whatever your software needs. (But newer computers won’t run older versions of the Mac OS.)
Emulate. This means, use software to make your computer pretend that it has a different processor and hardware than it actually does. With today’s insanely fast computers, this is becoming practical. You may already be doing it: that’s why 68K software runs on your PowerPC-based Macintosh. A program for emulating an older Mac on a newer Mac is a perfectly reasonable possibility; I don’t know of many such emulators, but there’s a superb site that tracks emulators, and I suspect that this solution will increase in popularity.
Migrate. You may be willing to abandon old software if there’s newer software that does the same job and can acceptably read the data created by the old software. The key word is "acceptably" – compromises may be necessary, and the process is not for the faint-hearted. I upgraded from an Apple II to a Mac without losing any data, but that was just text, and even so it took me years and many macros to recreate my formatting. When someone wrote me complaining that his life was invested in thousands of MacDraw files, I had no simple answer, except: experiment and weigh options. Can any software, such as AppleWorks or MacLink Plus, open these files or transform them to another format? Are you willing to accept the limitation of being able to see your images but not to edit them? If not, don’t migrate (and don’t upgrade).
Liberate. Let My Software Go! This option is directed mostly at the software’s creators, not the public at large. I don’t want people to steal your software; I don’t want them to have to. If you own rights to software that you’re not selling, since you know you won’t make any money from it now, and since its inaccessibility just impoverishes and annoys a public who, after all, would pay you if only you’d consent to take their money, why not post it on the Web where we can download it? The hero of the hour in this respect is Dave Winer, who has at last liberated his MORE 3.1 outliner from Symantec. Not to be outdone, David Dunham has freed Acta, another popular outliner. The folks at Nisus, too, have been giving away an old but perfectly viable version of their flagship Nisus Writer word processor. Doubtless there are others, like Corel’s recent move of releasing WordPerfect 3.5 for free, but these are particular favorites of mine.
Still, this doesn’t solve the problem of software ceasing to work; for that, we’d need the actual source code, plus a gang of volunteer experts willing to tinker with it. Nearly a year ago, Adam proposed the Electronic Phoenix Project to do just that. If dead or dying software troubles you, reread his piece. Although there was an initial flurry of interest and activity, the fact is that coordinating an open source effort is real work, which has yet to be done. Still, the Phoenix-Talk mailing list remains active on Adam’s servers; if the recent releases of old binaries excite you enough to push for source code, the Electronic Phoenix Project can still fly.
Forward into the Past — With personal computers, it’s easy to become fixated on the future, the coming thing, tomorrow’s stock IPO. We rarely pause to look back; but if we do, we see a disturbing graveyard of perfectly good software that no longer works quite right or can no longer be legally obtained. In certain cases, such as outliners, a whole class of software can threaten to go moribund. What’s supposed to happen in situations like this? Should those users who relied on the software suffer because the programs weren’t sufficiently popular to warrant continued development? Should someone else have to reinvent the same software from scratch? If so, how can software ever progress? Can it be that, with the exception of the few companies that stay in business, software is doomed to a fleeting, cyclical, dead-end existence? That would be a supreme irony for an entity whose nature is almost mathematically pure, with no moving parts, nothing to wear out, nothing, in theory, to prevent it working perfectly forever.
Online commerce is growing all the time, but a recent experience shows just how far we have yet to go. Like good little technogeeks, Tonya and I own a cellular phone and a camcorder. However, unlike really good little technogeeks, we haven’t replaced the perfectly functional cell phone and camcorder that we’ve had for several years now. Both work fine for the minimal uses we require of them, and as much as technolust does kick in whenever I see a friend with a tiny cell phone that can also receive email or a digital camcorder that puts ours to shame in a package a tenth the size, we’ve resisted buying new models for the sake of having the latest and greatest.
The real problem is that the rechargeable batteries powering these devices have finite lifespans, somewhere between 500 and 800 charge cycles. Over a few years, it seems that we’d hit roughly that number of charge cycles; the camcorder wouldn’t work at all on battery (an increasingly serious problem with an infant in the house), and we had to plug the cell phone into the car adapter to be assured that it wouldn’t cut out on us in the middle of a call.
The Initial Charge — Rather than spend hours traipsing around the Seattle metropolitan area in search of stores that would carry replacement batteries, I figured that the Web would be a good place to shop. After all, batteries are extremely specific pieces, and there are thousands of possible sizes and shapes. Thus, it would seem to make sense for a vendor to stock as many as possible in a warehouse somewhere, offering a Web-based ordering system backed by a database as the storefront to this business.
I started my search in the appropriate section of Yahoo, figuring that I could easily go down the list and compare the different online battery vendors. The list is populated with about 50 likely sounding companies, such as Batteries Direct, The Battery Guys, BatteryZone, and e-Battery.
My criteria were simple at first. I wanted to buy replacement batteries for both the cell phone and the camcorder at the same place, and I didn’t want to pay a huge amount, because if the batteries were too expensive, that little technolust voice would nag about how a new phone or digital camcorder would be so much nicer.
Assault & Battery — I started by Command-clicking each link on the Yahoo page to open each site in its own window. To Yahoo’s credit, most of the sites listed still existed, and only a few had moved, necessitating another click. Once in a site, I first looked for the batteries for our Sony CM-H333 cell phone. If I found a battery for the Sony phone, I then switched to looking for a JVC BN-V7GU battery for our camcorder.
Since I wanted to buy both batteries from the same vendor, I closed the window on stores that didn’t have either battery and moved on to the next site in Yahoo’s list. (Having the visited links colored provided useful feedback on how far through the list I’d gotten.) A large percentage of the battery vendors lost my business in this fashion, despite their standard claims that they carried every battery in the known universe.
I quickly discovered that most sites feature hierarchical lists of products, so you could click a series of links like Batteries -> Camcorder -> JVC and end up with a list of batters that fit JVC camcorders. Sites that required you to search fared worse; some didn’t work at all and others forced you to search for manufacturer, which was more convoluted than just clicking a link in a list or selecting from a pop-up menu. I also found search engines confusing because I had four gobbledygook model numbers to choose from, one each for the phone and the camcorder and another one for each of the batteries, and it was never clear which model number I should use.
While working through this process for each site, I discovered that I needed to add another criterion to my collection. Since I was doing this after dinner at night, I didn’t want to send email or call for an answer to a question, and I especially didn’t want to have to wait until the next day, then call in my order. Online ordering wouldn’t seem to be that big of a deal these days, but a number of battery vendors still lack that basic capability.
Eventually I discovered three sites that met my criteria: Battery Barn, MJM Electronic, and Westco Battery. Ignoring for the moment that the design and graphics on these sites range from the merely acceptable down to the painful, I discovered that these sites offered wildly different prices.
A Trip to Battery Island — At this point, I’d seen enough seemingly random numbers and letters being thrown around to realize that something odd was going on. I looked more closely at the two existing batteries I wanted to replace. The cell phone used a 4.8 volt (V), 900 mAH (milliamp-hour) NiCad battery, and the camcorder had a 9.6 V, 1400 mAH NiCad battery. It was time to find out what all this meant. On the eBatts.com site, I found an discussion of battery chemistry that explained the practical differences between NiCad (Nickel Cadmium), NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride), and Li-Ion (Lithium-Ion) battery technologies. In short, NiCads are often the cheapest, but they have less power per pound than the others, suffer from a memory effect, and present an environmental hazard if not recycled properly. NiMH batteries are more expensive, but they provide about twice as much power per pound than NiCads, don’t have nearly as much of a memory effect, and don’t contain the heavy metals that present environmental problems. Li-Ion batteries continue the trend, offering about 35 percent more power than NiMH batteries for the same weight and eliminating the memory effect entirely. I assume they’re more expensive yet, but since they weren’t an option for my devices, I didn’t check into them more.
The different battery types apparently aren’t interchangeable unless a device is configured to accept more than one type. Figuring out whether or not my devices, which both came with NiCad batteries, could accept NiMH batteries would have required extensive investigation into finding and deciphering manuals, so I decided to accept the replacement batteries the vendors claimed would work.
(As an aside, I also found the Web site for the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, a non-profit formed to promote the recycling of NiCad batteries to keep them out of landfills. Their Web site provides a search engine that tells you where you can take your dead NiCads for recycling in your area. I never knew how to go about this before, but I was pleased to learn what to do with my dead NiCad batteries.)
Battery chemistry obviously caused the NiMH batteries to be more expensive, but that didn’t seem to account for everything. Once again, the eBatts’s Battery Tips page helped out. The voltage of the replacement batteries had to match the original, but apparently the milliamp-hour rating could be higher, at which point the replacement battery would offer a longer run time. Now the cost differences made sense, so I made up a little chart comparing the prices and the milliamp-hours and came up with the best compromise.
Picking a Power Level — I ended up buying my batteries from Battery Barn because they offered NiMH batteries with good milliamp-hour ratings for the camcorder and the cell phone. MJM Electronic had only NiCad batteries with lower milliamp-hour ratings, and although their cell phone battery was $7 cheaper, their camcorder battery was $12 more expensive. Westco Battery had the best designed site and the lowest prices, but their NiCad camcorder battery was rated at 500 mAH less than the Battery Barn’s NiMH battery but only cost $13 less. And although Westco’s NiCad cell phone battery was $18 cheaper, they didn’t provide a milliamp-hour rating, and the total $31 savings was heavily offset by a $10 shipping charge that both other sites waived entirely.
I include this level of detail merely to illustrate how difficult it was to compare prices between vendors. In no case was I comparing apples to apples – the battery chemistry and capacity variables provided most of the confusion, with the shipping charges topping it all off.
Finishing off the order on Battery Barn’s Web site proved somewhat more difficult than one would expect, since their Web order form had no links to the products. It worked just like a paper form in a mail order catalog – you wrote down the product numbers (which were of course different from the original battery numbers) and prices and then entered them into the order form manually, adding in any necessary shipping and tax amounts.
Powering Down — Being the inveterate problem-solver that I am, it struck me that the replacement battery industry could use a healthy dose of database, user interface, and Web help. A well-designed database would be the first step, since the vendors need to track manufacturers, product model numbers, and battery model numbers, along with the overlap when different retailers rebrand devices from other manufacturers. Then comes the user interface effort – consumers (remember, we’re talking about consumer electronics here) should be able to type in any model number they can find. They should also be able to browse hierarchically to the appropriate spot. And when they find the appropriate replacement batteries, they should be presented with full descriptions that verify that the battery will work with the device in question and include all the information necessary to decide between batteries (the chemistry and capacity question). Ideally, links on those pages should explain all the variables so the user doesn’t have to visit another site, as I did. And finally, all of this database information should be integrated with the Web order form, so purchasing is merely a matter of adding an item to a cart. It’s not rocket science, though it would require hard work and attention to detail.
In the end, although I was successful in purchasing my batteries at a reasonable cost and without spending hours driving around to different stores, I was struck by how far commerce on the Internet has come, and how far it has left to go.